The loss of rural midwife-led units (MLUs) in Shropshire is “unthinkable”, according to a senior health official.

Simon Wright, chief executive of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals (SaTH) Trust, pledged to protect MLUs such as the one in Oswestry, which is temporarily closed.

He also admitted the announcement of the closure – which runs for up to six months – was “badly handled” and blamed “partner groups” for pushing for the temporary suspension.

Speaking to town councillors, Mr Wright said the decision was made “with a heavy heart”.

He said: “The closure should have been handled better.

“We held out for a long time, we didn’t want to close the unit, but our hopes of recruitment simply didn’t happen.

“Midwives said it was more difficult for mums having to ask if the unit was or wasn’t open, but we could have made that decision sooner.

“I think the reason it took as long as it did is because we recognise the depth of feeling around local services and MLUs.

“It was our partners who said it is better to close to get things sorted than to continue and say in three months that we need more time.

“But it was a difficult decision made with a heavy heart.”

Mr Wright noted a review by the Clinical Commissioning Group which is looking into the future of MLUs, adding: “I can’t make any assurances about the future until that review is completed.

“Personally and on behalf of the Trust, we expect to see rural provision protected. We don’t know what that future model will look like but certainly we would not advocate the removal of rural services.”

He said: “There is no desire to remove local and rural provision for mums, and there is no desire to shut services but we do need to ensure they are providing what is best.”

However, Mr Wright did reveal that the MLU in Oswestry will reopen as soon as enough staff are recruited, which could be as soon as September 29.

He said: “We have made a number of appointments. The primary reason for reopening is getting the additional staff and I don’t see that being a particular problem.”

If the unit does not reopen next month a further review is due to be made at the end of December. But if enough staff are recruited prior to that then it will reopen sooner.

Mr Wright said: “It is our wish and our midwives would want to promote this too, to see low-risk birth at home or in MLUs – because those are the best environments for mother and baby – but they have got to be confident in the service and that the MLUs will be open and the right staff will be there to support them.”